Cognition and complexity. We understand the words, but do we understand what they mean in this 21st Century? In his book The Mind Is Mightier, which surveys the evolution of ideas, author Bar-Giora Goldberg tries to explain it. He warns that “much of what we do and imagine is the invention of our mind,” and that if we’re not careful, we can be “prisoners” of our clouds. This is an excerpt from the book’s introduction.
Life is a gigantic mystery and while we are starting to decipher few of the secrets, we find out that the path is leading to rising complexity and the cognization of our lives, sciences and arts.
This reflective historical study is a set of observations, perhaps a conjecture on the swift evolution of cognition and complexity in human history. A review of our languages, ontologies, the forces that drive us to scientific and artistic heights and the make-believe mythologies and biases we adapted on the path we have taken so far into the cognitive, artistic, scientific, social and political dimensions. History is our mirror and guide, a vast chronicle and ontological canvas that is not neutral and must therefore be interpreted every generation anew.
The rise of complexity and the centrality of cognition in our modern worldview, define the fundamental drivers, intellectual progress, advances and affluence of western societies. These developments, the outcome of our high language and the abstract and symbolically oriented worldview, coupled with the rapid advances in the science of computers – especially Machine-Learning, AI and biology (specifically in genetics) are by now, quite progressive. They have created the potential to approach soon and maybe tinker with some of the fundamental building blocks of the nature of life and its differentiation from inanimate matter, issues that could not have been pondered even a few decades ago. This capacity is possible, due to our ability to analyze and model complex scientific, social, political and abstract situations. Also, to comprehend a myriad of spiritual disciplines, mythologies, symbolism, changes in our worldview, advanced communications and the rapid rise of thinking machines.
Within the next few decades, humanity will grow by some 2 billion and we have little problems feeding all. We will build more urban areas than the total of our previous history. Our communication capacity: cables, satellites and terrestrial, will double every 5 years. Our data and knowledge base is doubling every few years too. We are absolutely in the age of Idea, Data and Cognition.
However, in spite of our advanced capabilities and fantastic cognitive progress, we have never learnt to tame the beast within us. With cognition and language came the discovery of ignorance – we quickly figured out that we know very little. Also with knowledge, came the realization of the matters we don’t know and the others that are perhaps unknowable.
Our progress is not Darwinian anymore, rather directed, motivated and accelerating on the cognitive path. Our brains conquered brute force. The mind is mightier.
Einstein summarized our conundrum in one of his aphorisms, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
If throughout history our main concern was food, we seem to have arrived in the Age of the Idea. When the largest taxi company (Uber) owns no cars, when the largest social media company (Facebook) provides no contents or the largest hospitality company (Airbnb) owns no real estate, it is time to ponder the meaning of it all and what this rise of cognition and complexity means to the future of the social-order.